MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A few weeks ago, the NLEX Road Warriors were 0-3 and in danger of missing the 2015 PBA Commissioner’s Cup playoffs.
On March 18, Wednesday, Coach Boyet Fernandez’s boys improved to 6-4 and have a great chance of finishing with one of the higher seeds in the league standings.
With a 102-86 victory over the KIA Carnival at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, NLEX won their fifth straight game and booked a ticket to the postseason, where they could be playing in a best-of-three series granted they win against the Barako Bull Energy on Tuesday, March 24.
“For me, just getting the best-of-three series will be good for us. Right now, we have a good chance for that. So hopefully we continue to work,” Fernandez said after the win.
Al Thornton shook off a slow first half to finish with 33 points and 14 rebounds. He did most of his damage in the fourth period, where NLEX outscored KIA by 19 points, 33-14.
“For some reason in the fourth quarter, everything falls,” Asi Taulava said about his import teammate's shooting. “[He’s a] great import, great guy, very humble. We all love him.’
“When it gets to the fourth quarter, we’re so lucky and fortunate that we have Al.”
Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler
Thornton received ample amount of help from his local teammates, notably from Jonas Villanueva who shot 50% from the floor and finished with 20 points to go with 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals.
Mac Cardona came off the bench and put up 16 points on just 9 shot attempts, including making critical shots early in the fourth period to swing the momentum of the ball game to his team’s favor.
Taulava, who was confined in Cardinal Santos Hospital the past few days due to chronic migraine issues and a flu he caught during the PBA All-Star Weekend, contributed 10 points and 10 boards while spending a chunk amount of time on defense guarding Carnival import PJ Ramos.
Ramos put up 41 points on 16-of-29 shooting and pulled down 23 rebounds. He went to the free throw line 13 times, making 9.
“Monster,” the NLEX big man described Ramos after the game.
“We just tried to limit him and keep his production down, but he still had 41,” Taulava said.
Unfortunately for KIA’s import, he didn’t receive much aid from his teammates as no local scored in double-figures. Reil Cervantes came closest with 8 points, while Virgil Buensuceso registered 7 markers.
“We shut down the locals in the third and fourth quarters and got the victory,” Taulava said.
Cardona’s triple early in the fourth quarter sparked a 9-0 run for the Road Warriors that helped them establish a 78-72 lead.
The game turned bleak for KIA a few minutes later when Ramos slipped while defending a fastbreak and hurt his right knee in the process. The big man stayed down for a few minutes and had to check out of the ball game after getting up.
PJ Ramos is down and holding on to his right knee after an awkward landing. #rstream pic.twitter.com/8R12gesXKE — Naveen Ganglani (@naveenganglani) March 18, 2015
Not long after Ramos’ return with 4:15 left in the game, Thornton hit a jumper to extend his club’s lead to 8. On the next possession, he drew a foul and converted both charities.
With three minutes left, Villanueva converted on a three-ball that sealed the win for his club.
“It was a 360-degree turn after the second half when we played pressure defense. We did good in our gameplan against Ramos in the second half, which I think turned the game into our favor,” said Fernandez, whose players started pressing on D for most of the last two quarters.
“I’m happy we won, but still we’re still looking for another game against Barako and hopefully we can get that one…”
A win next Tuesday for NLEX puts them at 7-4 to end their elimination round campaign. The four teams currently slotted above them in the league standings have 3 losses each, but three of those clubs have already earned wins against the Road Warriors.
“If you look at the upper bracket, you have Purefoods who beat us by a mile. There’s TNT. And there’s ROS who beat us. The four games that we lost, the top three was there,” Fernandez said.
But NLEX, who played three games over the past seven days, could fall all the way down the the no. 8 seed and face a twice-to-beat disadvantage with a loss to Barako.
The top two seeds will have twice-to-beat advantages, while seeds three to six will be paired up in best-of-three series.
“We need to stay focused,” Taulava said about facing the Energy, whose import Solomon Alabi guaranteed a victory against Thornton and NLEX.
The Road Warriors shot 40% from the field against KIA and went 8-of-23 from downtown. They made 35 total trips to the foul line and converted 80%. They also feasted on the Carnival’s 17 turnovers, which translated to 19 points.
NLEX’s bench, which put up 35 markers, outscored the 23 of KIA, who slides to 4-6 due to the loss. The Carnival will end their elimination round on Sunday, March 22, against Rain or Shine.
The first half was the PJ Ramos show as the 7-foot-3 Puerto Rican import towered over the defense thrown at him by NLEX big men Aldrech Ramos, Eric Camson, and Taulava.
After 24 minutes of play, Ramos was already up to 21 points and 13 rebounds, while his import counterpart had recorded just 8 points and shot a meagre 2-of-14 from the field.
KIA increased their lead to 11, 38-27, during a stretch where Ramos scored 6 of his team’s 11 points late in the second period. The Road Warriors countered with a 6-0 run capped off by a basket from Taulava, but a 3-pointer by JR Cawaling halted the momentum of his opponents.
Heading into halftime, KIA was ahead by nine, 45-36.
NLEX (102) - Thornton 33, Villanueva J. 20, Cardona 16, Lingganay 12, Taulava 10, Villanueva E. 4, Borboran 4, Canaleta 3, Raymundo 0, Camson 0, Ramos 0, Arboleda H. 0.
KIA (86) - Ramos 41, Cervantes 8, Buensuceso 7, Cawaling 6, Revilla 6, Avenido 6, Dehesa 5, Poligrates 3, Thiele 2, Yee 2, Alvarez 0, Pascual 0.
Quarter Scoring: 16-22, 36-45, 69-72, 102-86